Playing Paula Abdul at the The Southwest Chocolate and Coffee Festival
By Mark Lopez
Cookies? Cakes? Uh … yes please! Being raised in a Mexican household where pan dulce was an easy pick for a snack doesn't leave a lot of room for sugary denial. So, of course, I said yes to judge the 4th annual Southwest Chocolate and Coffee Fest when your beloved food editor Ty Bannerman was unable to attend. If there's one thing I love more than food, it's judging things.
If I could compare the experience to anything, it was something like being a judge on “American Idol.” Except, instead of having a pithy Simon recite snarky remarks and Paula there to ease the tension by constantly being positive, it was a nice well-rounded group of individuals who just wanted to munch on some chocolate. My co-judges included Phil Mahoney from 94 Rock, Ernie Rivera of The Mixing Bowl and Kristin Dowling, a CNM grad who is planning on opening her own bakery this summer. Keep a lookout for Rude Boy Cookies.
We were all Paula Abdul, in the sense that none of us said one negative remark to any of the contestants. But there's good reason for that: Everything was delicious, from a white chocolate macadamia cake with a cheesecake layer thrown in for good measure to a magic cookie bar with—and I'm not messin' around here—potato chips to add a salty crescendo to an already beautiful concoction.
We were all Paula Abdul, in the sense that none of us said one negative remark to any of the contestants. But there's good reason for that: Everything was delicious, from a white chocolate macadamia cake with a cheesecake layer thrown in for good measure to a magic cookie bar with—and I'm not messin' around here—potato chips to add a salty crescendo to an already beautiful concoction. That delectable creation by Katherine Hower won first place in the cookie competition.
Given her circumstances, I'm glad she won. Five minutes before Hower's victory, she got a call from her brother telling her that her mother had a stroke and was being taken to the hospital. “I went up there to tell the young lady that I [knew the] judging was in five minutes, but my mom was sick. And she looked at me and said, 'You have to stay here,'” Hower said. “I was so upset about my mom, it didn't even register [that] she was basically telling me I won.”
Hower's mother is at home now and feeling better. I’m sure having a cookie champ kid could improve any dire circumstance. I soon realized that some of the best desserts I had the privilege of tasting were made by kids. For instance, one shining example was white cake with what seemed to be caramel on top. But the kicker was that there were actually scrambled eggs and bacon in the frosting. You say bacon, I'm there. I remember taking a bite as she described the ingredients, and being surprised, elated and grateful. That might also be why I can't remember most of the ingredients. But that doesn't matter now. I'll always have the memory of it.
The joy of cooking was also apparent in Amanda Rivas' dark chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel icing and spun sugar on top. These things were massively delicious—and just massive. It was like Alexander McQueen had decided to take up baking. Not only were they scrumptious, but Rivas won first place in the cake competition.
In closing: Congratulations to the winners, and please invite me back again next year. Please.
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